I propose to take Questions Nos. 35, 39 and 40 together.
On 11th March, I launched of the National Childcare Scheme- our pathway to truly accessible, affordable, quality childcare. The scheme will open to applications this October, with payments flowing from November.
Good progress is currently being made in preparing for the Scheme's launch.
Last July, the primary legislation establishing the Scheme, the Childcare Support Act, was signed into law. Detailed secondary legislation and policy guidelines made under the Act are now being finalised.
Last July, I also awarded a contract for the development of the Scheme's supporting IT system. The contractor, Codec, is currently working intensively with officials from my Department and Pobal to develop the scheme's supporting IT system so that it will be available on schedule in October.
In December, I signed regulations to provide, for the first time, for the registration of school-age childcare services with Tusla, and these regulations came into force on the 18th of February. This means that school age childcare services will be able to participate in the scheme from the outset.
A national communications campaign on the Scheme is also underway. This involves a sequenced programme of information, training and supports, to allow everyone- parents, providers and representative groups- to prepare for the Scheme. Key elements of the campaign in March included the launch of a new website- www.ncs.gov.ie - as well as a major nationwide training programme for providers, offering over 12,500 training places across 600 venues. I am happy to report that there is very strong interest in both the website and the training.
In September and October, my Department will run a large information campaign across a number of media channels to ensure there is full awareness amongst parents of their potential entitlements under the new Scheme.
Under measures included in Budget 2019, I was pleased to have been able to further enhance the Scheme by raising the upper and lower thresholds for income related subsidies. These increases will poverty-proof the scheme for families on lower incomes, and enable more families with middle and higher incomes to access support.
I will continue to work intensively to deliver this landmark scheme which will alter the landscape of childcare in Ireland, support families, provide a sustainable platform for investment and, crucially, allow us to continue to invest in giving our children the best start in life.
In parallel with this work, I will continue to support providers with regard to increased provision of childcare places. In 2019, I have secured a Capital budget of €9.606m for the sector which will enable a focus on increasing the number of places available, and supporting the transition of services to the forthcoming National Childcare Scheme.
I am also very pleased to have ensured that childcare was identified as a strategic priority in the National Development Plan ( 2018-2027) and to have secured €250m in capital funding for childcare under the plan. This represents the kind of large scale investment in the sector by the State that has not been undertaken since the earlier National Childcare Investment Programme that concluded in 2010. This investment will be essential, I believe, to respond to the increased capacity we expect as the new National Childcare Scheme is introduced.